Two University of Regina professors have come out winners in a nationwide race for funding.
Both Nick Carleton and Mohan Babu have been awarded $1.2 million in grants for two health research projects at the U of R. Carleton received $467,499 to research chronic pain, while Babu has received $785,135 to research mitochondria. Both grants are part of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research’s yearly grant competition – which doles out approximately $240 million every year to over 14,000 health researchers in Canada.
“This funding is a testament to the excellent research being conducted at the University of Regina,” said Dennis Fitzpatrick, U of R vice-president of research. “Our university is conducting world class research that is making a difference in people’s lives around the world.”
The CIHR’s Operating Grants Competition is highly competitive, with 4,577 applications and only 485 grants awarded. Saskatchewan universities won a total of $2.3 million this year.
“We are really excited that the University of Regina was able to get the funding that it has,” Carleton said. “The process is incredibly competitive. I think we did fantastic as a province, and certainly we did really well as a university.”
Carleton, an associate professor of psychology, will receive $467,499 over five years to use computer software to help fibromyalgia patients. The disorder causes chronic pain all over the body, and there is no known cause or cure. In a pilot study, the software proved to reduce symptoms in patients by up to 30 per cent after they used the program for a few minutes each day.
“There is a lot we know about the psychology of pain now that we didn’t know even five years ago,” Carleton said. “Pain is a complex phenomenon. Pain is not simply, ‘My nerve sends a signal to my brain and now I feel pain.’ We know that is it associated with symptoms of avoidance, fear, anxiety, (and) what they are paying attention to. This doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t real; it just means that the pain is being experienced differently.
“For people with chronic pain, over time, pain starts to change the way they think about pain,” he said.
According to Carleton’s pilot study, patients with chronic pain react negatively to pain-related words. His software reverses this dynamic, using neutral words to reduce pain in patients with Fibromyalgia. For instance, the word “agony” will create small pain, while “sock” would neutralize it.
“The results have been very encouraging,” Carleton said.
The CIHR also awarded $785,135 to Babu, an associate professor of biochemistry, to study a number of mitochondrial diseases. Mitochondrial cells serve a wide range of crucial cellular functions. Any dysfunction within the cell can cause cancer and neurodegenerative disorders – and usually do.
Babu’s research team is monitoring the interactions between mitochondrial proteins and genes to create what he calls an “interaction map,” which will have mapped hundreds of thousands of interactions when it is finished. As the data on mitochondria is collected, Babu’s lab will create a vast network of information that will allow future graduate students and scientists to conduct specific research.
“I strongly believe that this kind of study will create a lot of breakthroughs,” Babu said. “The idea here is that once we create this interactive map ... one person cannot explore the endless possibilities that will come from this data. It will give the community the chance to use the data we are generating, and that way they can use that to make important discoveries.”
The project was already underway before the CIHR awarded Babu’s lab additional funding. The team is already 20 per cent complete, and expect to publish several papers over the next four years.